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NFL Free Agency: Carolina Panthers, San Diego Chargers Among Winners So Far

Hundreds of players have yet to change addresses. Several trades are still to be made. Some of the most talented players are still days away from making up their minds on their future franchises. Yet it’s still not too early to begin to declare some early Winners and Losers in the 2011 NFL free agency period. After all, several players have already found new homes or remained in familiar places, making certain teams comfortable or frustrated in the process. Here’s our take on the NFL free agency period so far.

Winners:
Carolina Panthers
– The lowly franchise had a league low 2-14 record last season, and the house was cleaned thereafter with new head coach Ron Rivera brought in to establish a new mindset and vision for the Panthers. A brand new quarterback was brought in with Cam Newton’s first overall selection in the draft. But the amount of work to be done was daunting given that most players seemed like they were headed out.

So far, the new regime has stopped the bleeding. Defensive end Charles Johnson was perhaps the best pass rusher on the market. DeAngelo Williams was arguably the best running back available, and he was rumored to possibly head to Denver to follow John Fox. Instead, both cornerstone players were brought back and now Newton has taken to the press to convince Steve Smith to stay. The work is far from over in Carolina, but the tide is turning for the team already.

San Diego Chargers – If the Chargers would have lost their best defender in safety Eric Weddle, a defense that already has some holes would have been decimated beyond the ability to compete for the playoffs. But Weddle is back and the linebacking corps has been partially remade with the smart signing of Takeo Spikes and the addition of Jonas Mouton in the draft. Add other choices of Cory Liuget and Marcus Gilchrist and A.J. Smith really is developing something special. Expect the team to rebound rather quickly this season.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Nothing like plugging a weakness in such a way that it now becomes a strength, but that’s exactly what general manager Gene Smith has done in the middle of his defense by signing linebacker Paul Posluszny. The former Buffalo Bill is a young tackling machine who will embody exactly what Jack Del Rio wants to do on defense. Partnered with a dynamic young defensive line, the Jags are going to be a sleeper team in the AFC South.

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